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Holy Basil – Herbal Support for Combating Stress & Much More

  [ 66 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • April 13, 2009

Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) has been employed for thousands of years and is known as ‘the queen’ of India’s traditional Ayurvedic medicine.

But modern scientists also recognize the “adaptogenic” or “normalizing” properties of the chemical compounds in this herb, for support of normal stress hormone (cortisol), blood sugar, and insulin metabolism; as well as healthy immune function and inflammation response.

Simply put, the chemical composition of Holy Basil is highly complex, including many nutrients, antioxidants, and other biologically active compounds. And the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. While scores of studies have focused on the effects of individual compounds in Holy Basil, researchers also note that the herb’s many components interact synergistically with each other, to deliver an increasing number of scientifically observed benefits.

In the United States, for example, researchers have determined that Holy Basil's "active" molecules include potent COX-2 inhibiting anti-inflammatories. These "active" molecules' cell protective properties have been studied with respect to cells of the breast and oral cavity (United States), colon (China), prostate (Korea), skin (Hungary), and liver (Korea).

In particular, Holy Basil is valued in the West for promoting a positive stress response, as outlined in the following Q&A.


Ask the Doctor: a Q&A on Herbal Support for Natural Stress Relief
with Dr.Taryn L Forrelli, ND

According to studies by the National Institutes of Health, approximately 90% of all illnesses – mental and physical - are caused by or aggravated by stress.

* * * *

Q: How do our bodies respond to stress?

Dr. Forrelli: Our bodies are constantly scanning the physical and emotional landscape for safety, and are primed to initiate a stress response whenever they sense danger. The stress response is designed to increase chances of survival in life-or-death situations by shifting the body’s metabolism away from repair and regeneration, to energy expenditure.

The heart beats faster, blood pressure increases, blood sugar is released rather than metabolized, and digestion shuts down so that blood is kept in the periphery for the muscles to use. It is an impressive response orchestrated by hormones, namely cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine.

The problem is that too many aspects of our modern lifestyles register as unsafe to us:

• The pressures of work and family,

• The polluted air we breathe, the electromagnetic radiation we are exposed to,

• And the chemically contaminated and nutritionally depleted food we eat.

All of these factors keep the body in a constant state of stress.

* * * *

Q: What health concerns are associated with chronic stress?

Dr. Forrelli: Chronic stress wreaks havoc on the entire body by:

• Damaging the cardiovascular system

• Suppressing the immune system

• Creating hormonal imbalances

• Interfering with sleep

• Promoting bone loss

• Accelerating aging

• Creating blood sugar imbalances that may lead to obesity and diabetes.

* * * *

Q: Is there an herb I can take to help combat stress?

Dr. Forrelli: Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum), or “Tulsi” as it is popularly called, is an herbal adaptogen that has reigned supreme for the last 5,000 years in its native land, India. [An adaptogen is an agent that helps the body adapt more efficiently to stress.]

Holy Basil is a sacred herb in the Hindu religion and is considered a pillar of Ayurveda, the ancient Indian traditional system of medicine. According to the leader of India’s Ayurvedic Medical Association, Holy Basil is “anti-mutagenic and antiinflammatory.** [An anti-mutagenic is an agent that inhibits genetic mutations caused by mutagens such as UV radiation or toxic chemicals.]

It is a rasayana, or an herb that on its own nourishes a person’s growth to perfect health and enlightenment.”** People in the West find that Holy Basil promotes a positive stress response and elevates their spirit, because “Holy Basil delivers nutrients to the mind necessary for the experience of enlightenment.”**

* * * *

Q: How does Holy Basil protect against stress?

Dr. Forrelli: Modern research has determined that Holy Basil protects against stress in several different ways:

• Improves energy levels and endurance**

• Supports healthy immune function**

• Promotes a healthy inflammation response**

• Elevates your spirit

• Supports healthy cortisol, insulin metabolism, and blood sugar already in normal ranges**

• Promotes healthy gastric tissue that is often subjected to damage during times of stress.**

* * * *

Q: Why is cortisol so dangerous?

Dr. Forrelli: Chronically high cortisol levels cause a cascade of harmful effects. When cortisol is released, it causes blood glucose levels to go up. High glucose levels promote:

• Abdominal obesity

• Type 2 diabetes

• Inflammation

* * * *

Q: Does Holy Basil have other health benefits?

Dr. Forrelli: Research shows Holy Basil also:

• Promotes a healthy inflammation response**

• Protects healthy cells from radiation damage**

• Is a powerful antioxidant

• Supports detoxification**

A description of Holy Basil would not be complete without mentioning its modulatory effects on blood sugar demonstrated in human studies. This is good news for those who suffer from sugar cravings and are working toward maintaining a healthy metabolism.

* Dr. Taryn L Forrelli, ND, is a graduate of Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, a premier accredited 4 year medical institution that specializes in providing the most advanced understanding of Integrative Medicine. She also holds a biology degree from the University of Massachusetts. As a naturopathic physician, Dr. Forrelli offers insight into the marvels of human biological function and the natural healing power of herbs, nutrition, and lifestyle improvements. An experienced clinician, lecturer, and researcher, Dr. Forrelli is inspired by the clinical application of whole herb and whole food supplements, as it harmonizes with her personal philosophy of health and healing. (This Q&A is reproduced with kind permission of New Chapter, Inc.

** Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is generic and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any condition, illness, or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your health support plan without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team. If you are nursing, pregnant, or considering pregnancy you should consult your healthcare practitioner prior to using this product.

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